HMS Leonidas (1913)

HMS Leonidas (1913) was a Laforey class destroyer that served with the 3rd then 9th Flotillas at Harwich from 1914 to March 1917 then with the 4th Flotilla at Devonport until the end of the war. She fought at Heligoland, but spent most of her war fighting the U-boats.

Construction of the Leonidas was awarded to Parsons, but subcontracted by them to Palmers. The Leonidas was laid down at Palmer’s on 26 October 1912, launched on 30 October 1913 and commissioned in August 1914. She was to have been called Rob Roy but was called Leonidas when the entire class was given L names.

HMS Leonidas from the left HMS Leonidas from the left

The Leonidas must have joined the Third Flotilla at Harwich during August, as she wasn’t recorded with it at the start of the month, but was there by the 28th. She remained at Harwich until March 1917, although the flotilla changed number to the Ninth in October 1915.

The Leonidas fought at the battle of Heligoland (28 August 1914) where she was part of the 1st Division of the Third Flotilla (Lookout, Leonidas, Legion and Lennox).

During the battle her division attacked the German cruiser Strassburg, to support the British cruiser Arethusa, with most (but not Leonidas) firing their torpedoes at her. The German cruiser turned away and disappeared into the mists. During the battle the Leonidas fired 62 shells but no torpedoes. At the same time the Lark fired off all of her ammo, and in the afternoon she took 100 rounds of ammo from the Leonidas.

By November 1914 she had been equipped with a modified sweep.

On 26 November Miranda, Lance, Lennox, Landrail, Leonidas, Linnet, Louis and Laforey were ordered from Harwich to Dover, to carry out anti-submarine patrols to the west of the area covered by the Dover Patrol. This was in response to the cruise of U-21, which was then operating in the Channel and had sunk several ships near the French coast. On 27 November the British destroyers swept the area from Dover to the Needles. That night U-21 passed Dover heading east, evading an attack by three French destroyers. On 28 November the British destroyers were ordered to repeat their patrol to the Needles, but there was no longer anything to find.


On 27 March Laurel, Liberty, Leonidas and Lucifer were sent to patrol between the Mass and the North Hinder Light Vessel, to protect the Great Eastern Railway Company steamers which were still operating on the Harwich to Rotterdam route. The destroyers spotted a submarine at 4pm on 28 March, and spent the night attempting to keep her submerged. Six M class destroyers (Mentor, Manly, Morris, Milne, Mastiff and Murray) were sent to help, but early on 29 March the entire force was recalled to deal with a possible sortie by a German battlecruiser squadron. However it was soon discovered that the battlecruisers had returned to port, so the destroyers were sent back to patrol the same area. At 8.30am on 30 March the destroyers (by now raised to a total of 22) spotted U.24, but she dived and escaped. The patrols lasted until 5 April.

On 1-2 April Laforey, Lawford, Llewellyn and Leonidas escorted a batch of transports heading from Southampton to France on the night of 1-2 April, then continued on to the Bristol Channel, where they were to escort the 2nd Mounted Division at the start of its voyage to Egypt. They arrived on 4 April, replacing the Lance’s division. The destroyers were to escort the transport ships through the most dangerous area, leaving once they were 40 miles west of Lundy Island, where the threat from U-boats was believed to be low enough not to require an escort. The move began on 8 April when two transports sailed.

The first drama came on 11 April when the transport Wayfarer reported being attacked by a submarine. Laforey, Leonidas and Lawford were sent to investigate, but by the time they arrived the captain of the Wayfarer had realised that the explosion he had reported was caused by an accident, not a torpedo. This slowed down the sailings, and the last ship didn’t depart until 17 April. The four destroyers were able to depart for Harwich on 22 April.

On 1 May 1915 the Germans attacked a group of Royal Navy trawlers off North Hinder. They sank one trawler with a torpedo then became engaged in a gun battle with the other three. However four destroyers from Harwich, Laforey, Leonadis, Lawford and Lark had been sent out to hunt for a submarine that had sunk the destroyer Recruit earlier in the day, and they now came on the scene. The two German torpedo boats A.2 and A.6 attempted to escape but they were sunk by gunfire from the four destroyers.

On 16 May 1915 Laforey, Leonidas, Loyal and Louis was amongst eight destroyers ordered from Devonport to Liverpool to escort the Mauretania and Aquitania when they sailed on 18 May. Each liner was to be escorted by four destroyers, which were then to return to Devonport.

On 30 May an SOS message was received from the line Megantic. The Laforey was able to put to see within an hour, the Leonidas soon afterwards, both being at Pembroke at the time. They were then sent on a wild goose chase, with two other steamers broadcasting SOS calls. At the time there were no U-boats in the area, and it is possible that at least one of the captains had mistaken the Laforey for a U-boat.

On 11-13 July 1915 the Laurel, Lucifer, Liberty and Leonidas were sent to patrol just outside Dutch territorial waters off the Texel, in response to rumours that several German liners were about to attempt to dash from Rotterdam to Emden. This was the one point where they were likely to have to leave Dutch waters, but in the end the rumours turned out to be false and the destroyers returned to port without incident.

In late July 1915 at least part of the flotilla (Leonidas, Legion, Laurel, Landrail and Liberty) was sent to Devonport to take over the task of escorting transports on the first stage of their voyage to the Dardanelles.

At the start of August 1915 the Leonidas, Legion, Laurel, Fury, Landrail and Liberty were sent to join the Laverock and Louis at Queenstown, to serve under Admiral Bayly while he hunted for two U-boats that were known to be heading past the Fastnet rock on their way to the Mediterranean. This gave Bayly eight destroyers. Four were used to patrol an area west of Fastnet, patrolling in line abreast supported by the cruiser Adventure, the other four and the cruiser Tipperary operated in a series of individual boxes to the south-west of Fastnet. The first group were in place by 6pm on 8 August and the second by midnight. They remained in place until 1pm on 9 August then returned to port, without sighting either U-boat. In fact the intelligence had been good but the timing poor, as U-35 passed through the exact same area on 10 August on her way south, and two more passed through the area just after the destroyers had returned to port.

In October 1915 the Third Flotilla became the Ninth Flotilla, although it kept the same ships. The Ninth was essentially the old Third Flotilla given a new number. The flotilla was filled out with the flotilla leader HMS Lightfoot, the light cruiser HMS Undaunted and the depot ship HMS Dido. The Leonidas remained at Harwich into March 1917.


In January 1916 she was one of eighteen L class destroyers in the Ninth Flotilla at Harwich, but was one of a number of ships from the flotilla that were on escort duty at Devonport..

In October 1916 she was one of twenty L class destroyers in the Ninth Destroyer Flotilla at Harwich, along with the Lightfoot and Undaunted.

On 27 October Commodore Tyrwhitt was ordered to send a flotilla leader and four destroyers to Dover. The Lightfoot, Legion, Loyal and Lysander moved on 28 October and the Leonidas on 29 October.

On 10 November 1916 the Legion struck a German mine that had been laid along the patrol route by the Dover barrage. This disabled her engines and did a significant amount of damage aft, although only one man was killed. She had to be towed back into Dover by the Leonidas and Lightfoot.


In January 1917 she was one of twenty L class destroyers in the Ninth Flotilla, along with the Lightfoot and Undaunted.

On 7 April 1917 the Lennox and Leonidas arrived at Devonport to join the Fourth Flotilla, which had the job of hunting for U-boats, a rather inefficient operation given that they had no way to actually detect them while underwater. They remained with the Fourth Flotilla for the rest of the war.

On 22 April the Leonidas and a second destroyer were sent out to meet the Admiralty transport Karroo, which was inboard with a cargo of munitions and mules. However at 11.50am the Karroo was attacked by U-53, which fired two torpedoes at her. The torpedoes missed, and the submarine surfaced and chased the Karroo. The two ships exchanged gunfire, but the submarine was getting the better of the clash, when the destroyers arrived on the scene. They dropped a depth charge which was enough to convince the submarine to move on to easier targets. Even so 14 crew of the Karroo were killed during the clash.

On 29 May 1917 the Leonidas was at sea near the Scilly Islands hunting for a submarine known to be in the area. This submarine, UC-41, was spotted by Seaplane 8656 from the RNAS which dropped four bombs causing some minor damage. The Leonidas asked the aircraft if she could see the submarine, but by now it was out of sight and escaped.

By June 1917 the Fourth Flotilla had moved to Devonport. It now contained fourteen K class destroyers and six Laforey or L class destroyers.

In mid June the Leonidas, Lookout and Liberty were used to escort some of the ships from the second inbound transatlantic convoy, HH2, from the western approaches to the Isle of Wight. On 19 June a U-boat was spotted off the Longships, and Leonidas was diverted to pass within 30 miles of the sighting in case the submarine was heading towards the convoy ships.


In January 1918 she was one of forty destroyers in the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, which was now made up of a mix of various types.

In June 1918 she was one of fifty destroyers in the Fourth Destroyer Flotilla at Devonport, made up of a mix of types.

In November 1918 she was one of forty destroyers at Devonport.

In November 1919 was in the hands of a care and maintenance party in the Devonport reserve.

The Leonidas was awarded a battle honour for Heligoland (28 August 1914)

War Service
November 1914-June 1915: 3rd Flotilla, 1st Fleet (Harwich Force)
July-September 1915: 3rd Flotilla, Harwich
October 1915-March 1917: 9th Flotilla, Harwich
April 1917-December 1918-: 4th Flotilla, Devonport

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

29 knots


2-shaft geared Parsons turbines
4 Yarrow boilers




268ft 10in oa


27ft 8in


Three 4in/ 45 cal QF Mk IV guns
1 0.303in Maxim Machine Gun
Four 21in torpedo tubes with four torpedoes

Crew complement


Laid down

26 October 1912


30 October 1913


August 1914

Sold for break up

May 1921

British Destroyers From Earliest Days to the Second World War, Norman Friedman. A very detailed look at the design of British destroyers from their earliest roots as torpedo boat destroyers, though the First World War and up to the start of the Second World War, supported by vast numbers of plans and well chosen photographs [read full review]
cover cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 September 2022), HMS Leonidas (1913) ,

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